(The Center Square) – Gov. Janet Mills is ripping the state's largest health care system for vaccinating its employees and out-of-state contractors as Mainers over 70 struggle to make appointments to get their shots.
In a statement, Mills said the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines means the state must focus on front line health care workers, and individuals 70 or older, who are most at risk.
"MaineHealth’s decision to vaccinate outside of this strategy undermines the public’s confidence in our efforts," Mills said in a statement. "Simply put, it was not the appropriate way to give away our precious vaccine."
Mills' terse comments come in response to a claims by a group of whistleblowers, first reported in the Portland Press Herald, that MaineHealth was vaccinating all of its 22,000 employees, including those who don't come into contact with patients or health care workers.
Those who received the vaccine included out-of-state contractors who were brought in to fight unionization efforts among MaineHealth employees, the newspaper reported.
In a statement to local news media, the regional health care system defended the decision to vaccinate its employees and said claims that it violated state or federal rules were "false."
"MaineHealth stands by its decision in December to offer vaccination against COVID-19 to its full care team as being in the best interests of its patients, care team members and the communities it serves," the statement read.
During a weekly news briefing Tuesday, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state will be getting more aggressive with health care providers to ensure they are following the state's COVID-19 vaccination guidelines.
"We are saying in multiple forms of communication that failing to follow these guidelines could be a violation of provider agreements that set up the terms for them getting the vaccines," she told reporters.
Mills said with shortages of the vaccines keeping many Mainers waiting, the health care system's decision to vaccinate its workers "was an inexcusable act."
“We are in the midst of the largest, most difficult vaccination effort of our time and our health care providers have been important partners in this effort," the governor said. "But we have a limited supply of the vaccine, and we have had to prioritize who can be vaccinated."